After a long and interesting winter, a new WNBA season is right around the corner. Up first, however, is the 2022 WNBA Draft, which is set for April 11. On that night, 36 players will hear their names called and accomplish their dream of becoming professional basketball players.
This year’s class is highlighted by a clear top two of Kentucky guard Rhyne Howard and Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith. While there’s some debate about which one should go No. 1, it would be a major shock if anyone is drafted ahead of those two All-Americans. Ole Miss big Shakira Austin, meanwhile, seems to have solidified her status as the third-best prospect. After that, however, there’s almost no certainty.
Ahead of draft night, here’s a look at how the first round could go with our initial mock draft. As a reminder, this takes individual talent, team needs and fit into consideration.
1. Atlanta Dream: Rhyne Howard — G, Kentucky
Howard, who recently became just the ninth player to earn three First Team All-American honors, has long established herself as the best player in this class. She scores at all three levels, makes a real impact on the defensive end and has the size and athleticism to easily adjust to the WNBA. The Dream made a blockbuster trade to jump up to No. 1, and Howard is the type of player who’s worth the price.
2. Indiana Fever: NaLyssa Smith — F, Baylor
This has been a two-player race at the top of the draft for a while now, and with Howard off the board the Fever will gladly take Smith, who was one of just five players in the country to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. She is an unbelievable athlete who excels in transition, a strong rebounder and defender and an efficient finisher around the basket. She has real star potential, especially if she continues to refine her offensive game.
3. Washington Mystics: Shakira Austin — F/C, Ole Miss
The Mystics were the surprise winners of the lottery, and then in an even bigger surprise, they traded the No. 1 pick to the Dream. So who might they be targeting lower down the board? Shakira Austin is one potential option, as they could use some frontcourt depth, and the 6-5 big out of Ole Miss arguably has as much upside as anyone in this class. She’s an impactful defender, moves fluidly for her size and has some intriguing potential on the offensive end with her ability to face up and put the ball on the deck.
4. Indiana Fever: Kierstan Bell — G/F, Florida Gulf Coast
After taking Smith, it makes sense for the Fever to turn towards the perimeter with their second lottery pick. At 6-foot-1, Bell is the type of big, athletic wing you need to build a winning team in the modern game. She was one of the best scorers in the country (her 23.5 points per game would have ranked fourth if she didn’t miss time due to a knee injury), crashes the glass well for her size and should be able to play multiple positions. Watch out if she can improve her 3-point shooting.
5. New York Liberty: Emily Engstler — F, Louisville
Engslter transferred to Louisville in part because she wanted to play for a program that would help prepare her for the next level. That decision has paid off in a major way, as she’s surged up the draft boards thanks to her versatility and relentless work ethic. She averaged 4.5 stocks (steals plus blocks) this season, will be able to guard multiple positions at the next level, shoots it well from outside and doesn’t need the ball. In short, a perfect fit for the Liberty.
6. Indiana Fever: Nyara Sabally — F/C, Oregon
Nyara Sabally, the younger sister of Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally, has a brutal injury history that’s highlighted by multiple ACL tears in her right knee. But as a 6-foot-5 big who can bang in the paint and is mobile enough to move around the perimeter, she is a clear first-round talent. Her upside if she stays healthy is well worth the risk for a rebuilding Fever team that needs all the help it can get and has four top-10 picks.
7. Dallas Wings: Rae Burrell — G/F, Tennessee
Burrell was awesome as a junior, but her stock has dropped after a disappointing season marred by a knee injury and some extremely inefficient scoring. The potential as a wing scorer is obvious, though, and she had her best game of the season in the Sweet 16 against a great Louisville team featuring a number of future pros. Dallas needs a wing who can help take some of the offensive pressure off Arike Ogunbowale, and Burrell could be a perfect fit.
8. Minnesota Lynx: Sika Kone — F, Mali
The Lynx are in an interesting spot here. They’re already going to have to make a number of cuts before training camp, and are a veteran team that’s all-in to try and win a title in Sylvia Fowles’ final season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them trade this pick, but if they keep it one option is Sika Kone. The 19-year-old forward out of Mali has tons of potential and was dominant at times in the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2021, but figures to be a long-term project. She’s also currently sidelined with a knee injury, which only adds to the possibility of a draft and stash.
9. Los Angeles Sparks: Evina Westbrook — G, UConn
As a team that desperately needs help on the wing after their offseason maneuvering, the Sparks were likely not thrilled to hear that Ashley Joens decided to go back to school. Now, if Bell and Burrell are both off the board by the time they pick, they could look to Westbrook. The 6-foot guard out of UConn is already 23 years old and doesn’t have the upside of some other players, but she’s versatile, defends and is willing to play whatever role necessary to help her team.
10. Indiana Fever: Nia Clouden — G, Michigan State
There are some conflicting opinions on where Clouden might go, in part because she’s only 5-foot-9. But given her quickness and ability to create shots for herself and others, she’s well worth a late first round pick. Only six other players in the country put up at least 20 points and four assists per game last season, and none of them shot better than Clouden from 3-point land (39.6 percent).
11. Las Vegas Aces: Elissa Cunane — C, NC State
With Liz Cambage’s departure in the offseason, the Aces are in need of some frontcourt depth, and could look to Cunane. The three-time All-American needs to improve her physicality, but she’s skilled, can get up and down the floor and has shown some promise as a 3-point threat in limited attempts. She could end up being a good fit for new head coach Becky Hammon’s more modern style.
12. Connecticut Sun: Christyn Williams — G, UConn
The Sun’s rotation is pretty much set, so it’s hard to imagine there will be many opportunities for a rookie in Connecticut this season, but Williams would be worth a look here. She struggled with consistency in college but was once the top recruit in her class and has great size for a guard. Head coach Curt Miller will appreciate her ability to defend, as well. If the Sun can develop Williams like they have with some other players in recent years, she could end up being a steal.